Doug Clarke


By Doug Clarke.

This is a step-by-step tutorial detailing how I edit my drum tracks. This process can be used as broadly as the first beat of each bar, or as finely tuned as every individual hit.

This tutorial will be Pro Tools specific as Beat Detective and other short cuts may not be transferable into other DAWs. However the key concepts still apply.

1. Preparation

Before I edit my drums I will do a few small processes to get the tracks ready:

- Compile takes together and apply crossfades between takes

- Create a backup of this ‘Original’ drum track in a playlist

- Consolidate entire drum track

2. Separate

Select a small 8 to 16 bar section and separate it with the Command + E short cut.

While you can do this drum editing process over the entire song, I wouldn’t recommend doing it in such large sections. I find it causes more problems and is much harder to fix if there are crossfade and quantizing errors (some of which are unavoidable). Editing over a smaller section allows for better quality control, and faster edits.

3. Groups

You need to group and edit all your drums at the same time to keep you phase relationship between the microphones. I use two different groups when editing drums. One group has all the drum tracks, and another has only Kick in, Snare top, and the tom tracks. I name this group Drum Skins. This will allow us to have more control over what transients Beat Detective detects.

Drum Editing Capture Separate

4. Beat Detective

Our first step with Beat Detective is analysing the audio tracks and detecting the ‘trigger’ points from the transients for Beat Detective to then separate. I only want Beat Detective to analyse the Kick, Snare and Toms. Select the group Drum Skins and proceed with the following steps:

- Select Clip Separation

- Select either 1/4, 1/8, or 1/16 note in Contains. This limits the trigger points to the notes that you have selected. For general edits I would stick with 1/4 or 1/8. (If you want to edit the track very heavily select 1/16).

- Click Capture Selection

- Click Sub-Beats and set the Trigger Pad to 5ms. This cuts the audio 5 milliseconds before the trigger point allowing for a crossfade to be done without cutting off the transient.

- Click Analyze. The pink lines are now a visual representation of the Trigger points detected.

Drum Editing Analyze

- Adjust sensitivity to increase or decrease the trigger points. This is why we have the group set to just the Kick, Snare, and Toms. It will accurately trigger the main transient details of the kit without accidentally triggering cymbals.

- Set the sensitivity between 20-30%. If you set the sensitivity higher to capture more transients, you can remove any unwanted trigger points with Command + Left Click.

- Once you have everything triggered, select the group containing all the drum tracks and reselect the audio. This will keep the Beat Detective settings you had for just the Drum Skins group and apply them over the entire drum tracks.

Drum Editing Analyze with Beat Detective

- Click Separate

Drum Editing - Separate

5. Quantize

Look at the drum take and see if it is consistently early, or late. Select the entire region and move it accordingly to fit the grid. This will allow the quantizing process to be a lot smoother as sometimes notes can be in-between the grid, resulting in the note being shifted incorrectly.

Select all the audio and open the Quantizing window with Option + 0. Set the quantize grid to either 8th or 16th notes, depending on how complex the edits are. Once this is done click Apply. This will quantize each hit to the grid.

Drum Editing - Quantize

6. Smooth region

Open Beat Detective and select all the audio. Select Edit Smoothing and select Fill and Crossfade Gaps. Set the crossfade length to 2-3 ms. This will fill all the gaps visible after the quantizing process and also apply small crossfades. Click Smooth to apply.

Drum Editing - Smooth

7. Check

Listen through the section and manually edit any crossfade or quantizing errors.

8. Repeat and consolidate

Repeat these steps until the entire track is done. It's much easier to do this type of group edits in small 8-16 bar sections as quality control of the batch edits and fades is more straight forward. Once the entire song is done, make sure to cross fade the 8-16 bar sections together. Do one more final check, then consolidate the entire region.

Things to watch out for:

1. Fills

Fills can be difficult to quantize. Fills that contain triplets, and a combination of 8th-16th-32nd notes can really throw off the quantizing. As these sections are small I usually edit them manually. 

2. Triplet sections

When scanning through the section if you can visualise any triplets during the beat detective/region separation steps I will unselect the transient and either manually edit the triplet after step 6, or if it sounds fine, leave it.


3. 8th/16th grid

Something to watch out for is making sure the grid on Pro Tools matches what you are editing. It makes sense if you are only editing 8th notes to lock into an 8th note grid. If you have it on 16th or 32nd on the grid the quantizing might lock the 8th note section a 16th/32nd early or late, pushing the entire section out.

4. Really REALLY bad playing

Some drum takes can’t be edited to the grid. If for example the drummer finishes a fill too late and starts the following section early to make up for it, pushing both the fill backwards to the grid and the following section forward is going to cause a gap in-between these sections. This is un-editable without having audible crossfade glitches. Unfortunately there is no real fix for these other than manually editing them by ear.

Doug Clarke is a One Flight Up House Engineer. He can Produce & Engineer your next record - just get in touch.